International conference on forcibly displaced, stateless opens tomorrow

Briefing Notes, 6 December 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 6 December 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The largest conference on refugees and stateless people in UNHCR's 60 years opens tomorrow at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. So far 145 countries have confirmed their participation. More than 70 will be represented at ministerial level.

The conference is the culmination of political and diplomatic efforts over many years by UNHCR to rally renewed support and commitments for the fundamental legal treaties enabling the UN refugee agency to provide protection and assistance to refugees and stateless people worldwide. 2011 has seen the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.

What we hope to achieve through this conference is improved support for the world's forcibly displaced and stateless. Some 35 states have indicated that they will be making pledges of policy and other action, and a number of states are expected to accede to one or more of the statelessness conventions. Three countries will review their reservations to the 1951 Convention with a view to withdrawing them. And more than ten states will work towards reviewing, amending or adopting national asylum laws and policies, to bring them more in line with their international obligations and current realities. A number of states will take steps to improve the quality of refugee status determination, particularly through increasing capacity and expertise.

Durable solutions will feature in many states' pledges, especially in Africa, with commitments to facilitate local integration. With statelessness, several countries have indicated intentions to improve levels of birth registration, facilitate access to documentation and revise nationality legislation.

During a special treaty event at 18:00 on 7 December countries will deposit instruments of accession to one of the conventions. Those doing so will be joined by other states that have acceded during 2011, as well as countries expected to accede soon.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres will address the opening session on Wednesday morning. In addition, there will be a video address by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Among other speakers are US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, President of the Swiss Confederation Micheline Calmy-Rey and others.

Guest Speaker:

Volker Turk, Director of UNHCR's Division of International Protection.

For further information on this topic, please contact in Geneva:

  • Melissa Fleming on mobile +41 79 557 9122
  • Adrian Edwards on mobile +41 79 557 9120
  • Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106
  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
  • Andrej Mahecic on mobile +41 79 200 7617
  • Sybella Wilkes on mobile +41 79 557 9138
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State Action on Statelessness

Action taken by states, including follow-up on pledges made at UNHCR's 2011 ministerial meeting in Geneva.

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UN Conventions on Statelessness

The two UN statelessness conventions are the key legal instruments in the protection of stateless people around the world.

Stateless People

Millions of stateless people are left in a legal limbo, with limited basic rights.

Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Two decades after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, thousands of people in former Soviet republics like Kyrgyzstan are still facing problems with citizenship. UNHCR has identified more than 20,000 stateless people in the Central Asian nation. These people are not considered as nationals under the laws of any country. While many in principle fall under the Kyrgyz citizenship law, they have not been confirmed as nationals under the existing procedures.

Most of the stateless people in Kyrgyzstan have lived there for many years, have close family links in the country and are culturally and socially well-integrated. But because they lack citizenship documents, these folk are often unable to do the things that most people take for granted, including registering a marriage or the birth of a child, travelling within Kyrgyzstan and overseas, receiving pensions or social allowances or owning property. The stateless are more vulnerable to economic hardship, prone to higher unemployment and do not enjoy full access to education and medical services.

Since independence in 1991, Kyrgyzstan has taken many positive steps to reduce and prevent statelessness. And UNHCR, under its statelessness mandate, has been assisting the country by providing advice on legislation and practices as well as giving technical assistance to those charged with solving citizenship problems. The refugee agency's NGO partners provide legal counselling to stateless people and assist them in their applications for citizenship.

However, statelessness in Kyrgyzstan is complex and thousands of people, mainly women and children, still face legal, administrative and financial hurdles when seeking to confirm or acquire citizenship. In 2009, with the encouragement of UNHCR, the government adopted a national action plan to prevent and reduce statelessness. In 2011, the refugee agency will help revise the plan and take concrete steps to implement it. A concerted effort by all stakeholders is needed so that statelessness does not become a lingering problem for future generations.

Statelessness in Kyrgyzstan

Statelessness in Viet Nam

Viet Nam's achievements in granting citizenship to thousands of stateless people over the last two years make the country a global leader in ending and preventing statelessness.

Left stateless after the 1975 collapse of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, nearly 1,400 former Cambodian refugees received citizenship in Viet Nam in 2010, the culmination of five years of cooperation between the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Vietnamese government. Most of the former refugees have lived in Viet Nam since 1975, all speak Vietnamese and have integrated fully. Almost 1,000 more are on track to get their citizenship in the near future. With citizenship comes the all-important family registration book that governs all citizens' interactions with the government in Viet Nam, as well as a government identification card. These two documents allow the new citizens to purchase property, attend universities and get health insurance and pensions. The documents also allow them to do simple things they could not do before, such as own a motorbike.

Viet Nam also passed a law in 2009 to restore citizenship to Vietnamese women who became stateless in the land of their birth after they married foreign men, but divorced before getting foreign citizenship for them and their children.

UNHCR estimates that up to 12 million people around the world are currently stateless.

Statelessness in Viet Nam

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